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Rainy-day protest against sale of Harrow Lane site

A meeting called by Conservative councillors was held on Harrow Lane playing fields on Saturday to protest against controversial council plans to sell the site. About 50 people attended, including MP Sally-Ann Hart and Labour Cllr Andy Batsford, the housing lead, who defended the policy. Report by Nick Terdre, photos by Russell Jacobs.

Some 50 local residents and councillors gathered on Harrow Lane playing fields in intermittent rain on the morning of Saturday 10 July to attend a meeting called by Cllr Mike Edwards, one of the Ashdown ward representatives, to protest against the sale of the site by Hastings Borough Council.

Also present were Conservative councillors Andy Patmore, leader of the Conservative HBC group, Paul Foster, John Rankin, Rob Cooke and Peter Pragnell, who is also chairman of East Sussex County Council, as well as Hastings & Rye MP Sally-Ann Hart and Labour councillor and housing lead Andy Batsford.

After a photo opportunity in which members of the public were asked to hold up placards to form the slogan NOT4SALE, Cllr Edwards spoke about the various housing developments planned for the area: for Harrow Lane he said it was 150 houses originally planned which had been increased to 212, though when he asked Cllr Batsford what the correct figure was, the answer was 140.

Cllr Mike Edwards addresses the crowd. Behind him , from left, Cllrs Andy Batsford, Peter Pragnell and Rob Cooke.

Permission existed for 208 houses on the Holmhurst St Mary site, he said, and 67 were planned on the site adjacent to the playing fields by the developer Park Lane, while on the unoccupied Ashdown House site across the road the proposal is for 148 houses plus a retail store.

That amounted to more than 420 houses without counting the playing fields site, Edwards said, creating a volume of traffic which Harrow Lane, a narrow, curving road, would not be able to sustain, while local services such as schools and GP surgeries, already under pressure, would be swamped.

100% social housing

He also claimed that Cllr Batsford had done a deal with a developer to build 100% social housing on the site – Batsford said this was the intention – which he criticised as creating a ghetto. “A successful estate is a mixed estate, so for the council to come up with a scheme that is 100% social is lunatic, and the Conservatives firmly oppose it,” said Edwards.

MP Sally-Ann Hart.

MP Hart then told the meeting: “Nobody doubts that we need to build more homes for people to live in, affordable homes, but it has to be the right homes in the right place, this is not the right place. This is a playing field that was given to Hastings Borough Council many years ago for the benefit of Hastings community, and it has to stay for the benefit of the community, for a green space.”

Members of the crowd joined in as she chanted, “Not for sale! Not for sale!”

Covenant “hard to enforce”

Edwards explained that the land was gifted to the council (back in the 1870s) with a covenant attached forbidding the building of more than one house per acre. He suggested however that it would be hard to enforce: “Developers can take out insurance to cover themselves against any objection, or the covenant being upheld, and they wouldn’t lose out. The legal case is very watertight but very hard to enforce. We haven’t got enough money to fight it through the courts. So we’re really here to shame the council into withdrawing these plans.”

Cllr Patmore referred to Hastings’ successful application for funding from the government’s Town Deal initiative. “One of their aspirations is to make Hastings and St Leonards a garden town, and how can we have those credentials of building something special and beautiful green spaces if we just build over very green space that we have?”

While outline permission has been granted for building on the playing fields, and the Ashdown House site is still at the application stage, not everything is running smoothly for the other two developments. In April permission was refused by the planning committee for the Park Lane development, and according to Edwards the developer of the Holmhurst St Mary site has sold it on, although they had spent five years working on it. One of the problems is that Japanese knotweed is established on the site.

Cllr Andy Batsford discusses matters with a local resident.

For or against?

Cllr Batsford later questioned where the MP and one of the Tory councillors really stood on the issue of selling the site. In April, in a letter to constituents who live in Harrow Lane of which HOT has had sight, Hart wrote: “I do appreciate the wider concern for the development proposed for the Harrow Lane Playing Fields, however I believe these too are necessary if we are to meet the growing demand for housing in our town.”

HOT has asked Hart for clarification of her position but has received no reply.

Batsford also claimed that Cllr Rankin “has publicly said many times that HBC themselves should develop it with the Housing company and build 4 or 5 luxury homes on the site to sell at market price to make a profit.”

Consulted about this, Rankin told HOT he had spoken against the Harrow Lane application at the consultation forum in 2016 and when it came before HBC planning in 2018, as well as in an article on Hastings in Focus. He claimed: “Andy Batsford has a track record of attributing words to me that I haven’t said in order to give some kind of credibility to HBC’s poorly thought out housing strategy.

“To clarify I am against the sale of this land to a private developer – as it is owned by the people of Hastings. What I have said in the past (on many occasions including full council ) is that if HBC really can show a need for this space to be developed then they should do this themselves through the Hastings Housing Company which was set up for this very purpose and has access to almost unlimited funding through the Public Works Loan Board and a host of private sector lenders.

“The site should only be developed after other sites have been completed and should retain at least 60-70 percent environmentally friendly recreation space.”

Owning decisions

After the meeting Batsford told HOT he “felt it was really important that as the Lead for Housing and Homelessness for the town that I come and talk with, to listen to and answer any questions about the Harrow Lane site. As Councillors we have to own our decisions and be able to defend and explain why we think it’s the right plan for the whole town.”

Edward’s throwing out of numbers for the site “like a human random word tombola” and Hart’s  expression of support for the campaign after what she wrote to residents in the letter mentioned above were “pure and simple electioneering, with no thought to the needs of the whole town and its massive affordable housing crisis.”

He would take the concerns raised by those he spoke to “back to the developers to discuss the layout and design, but as I said on Saturday, it is in the local plan, it is a key site to bring those much needed real affordable homes to the local families of Hastings. The developers we have chosen will deliver a 100% affordable site, currently a split of 50% LHA [local housing assocation] rented and 50% shared ownership. Details of the deal will be announced soon.”

A petition has been launched by Cllr Foster calling on HBC not to sell the playing fields. When this report went to press, it had gathered just under 1,000 signatures.

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Posted 20:20 Wednesday, Jul 14, 2021 In: Campaigns

5 Comments

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  1. DAR

    Being accused of NIMBYISM on this issue is an insult because most protesters and other objectors support (in principle) another proposed huge development just across the road from the playing field (a GREENFIELD site) i.e. the Ashdown House site (because it is a BROWNFIELD site).

    That they be tarred as “NIMBYS” by Batsford & Co. because they (protestors) believe that the playing field is a vital GREENFIELD site is just plain insulting, never mind completely wrong. In fact, I don’t know of anyone living in Ashdown ward, or nearby, who is against developing the Ashdown House site, though some might have reservations about certain details involved in that plan.

    I hope voters will remember these insults when Batsford & Co. are up for local elections next year.

    Comment by DAR — Friday, Jul 16, 2021 @ 14:39

  2. Cllr Andy batsford

    To clarify the point above about what I mean by affordable homes.
    I don’t mean the ridiculous 80% below market vaule that Government suggest. Every rented home will be capped at LHA rate so to insure that even if a family fall on hard times their home is safe and covered by benefit payments so they can keep thier heads up and keep thier family safe.
    On the shared ownership I would prefer 100% rented but with only 40% funding towards construction costs from homes England per house selling some on open market through these schemes is the only way to bring theses sites forward.
    Hope that clarifies that.

    Comment by Cllr Andy batsford — Friday, Jul 16, 2021 @ 13:25

  3. Paul Foster

    We recently went past the 1000 signature milestone on the ‘Not For Sale! Hastings Borough Council Must Not Sell The Harrow Lane Playing Field’ petition, so first a big thank you to everyone that has given their support!

    Yesterday evening (14/07/2021) I attended the Full Council meeting as ward councillor for Conquest Ward.

    It was at that meeting that I and my colleagues were accused of being NIMBYS (Not In My Back Yard) for suggesting that the council reconsider the sale of this land. Does that makes all the fine people that signed the petition NIMBYS as well? It might in the eyes of some lead councillors, but of course in reality this was simply an attempt to belittle our valid concerns.

    So on that note – it will be of little surprise to you, I’m sure, to hear that despite all our efforts the council are still pressing ahead with the sale. In fact a team of technicians were spotted this week on the playing field taking soil samples before the field has even been sold. It is a sad state of affairs for sure, but we won’t give up. We will keep on fighting to stop the sale of this precious piece of green space!

    Comment by Paul Foster — Friday, Jul 16, 2021 @ 00:05

  4. DAR

    This is an indirect consequence of annual net migration figures of over a quarter of a million people for years. Our population has increased by some 5 million since the turn of this century and they all need homes. There’s not a “housing crisis”, but a population crisis.

    As a “floating voter”, I’ve voted Labour before, but Batsford and his cabinet cabal are too dictatorial over stuff like this so that’s my vote lost if this goes ahead. Actually, the cynic in me wonders if this (and other developments in the immediate vicinity) is a ploy by Batsford & Co. to saturate the ward with potential Labour voters in a ward where the Tories always win in local elections. There’s an online petition against this development (change.org) but I’m not sure I’m allowed to display it here.

    Comment by DAR — Thursday, Jul 15, 2021 @ 15:34

  5. GE

    BEWARE! Like all such developments, this is motivated by developer greed, and political ambition.

    ‘Affordable housing’ is not ‘social housing’. For most people on low incomes it is not ‘affordable’. Social housing rents are controlled by the rent service. ‘Affordable’ rents are not, and can mean up to 80% of market rent. ‘Shared ownership’ is a scam, with buyers who only ‘own’ 10% of the property being responsible for 100% of any service charge, repairs, or improvements, viz. the cladding scandal.

    Once planning permission is given, and work begun, the developer will conduct a ‘financial viability assessment’ (perhaps one of several) which will show that due to cost increases it can no longer afford to build the ‘affordable’ homes it promised. This is legally permissible at present.

    This desecration of open land, and/or demolition of existing social homes, is breaking out all over England like a horribly disfiguring and contagious disease. OPPOSE IT! NOBODY BENEFITS EXCEPT THE PRIVATE DEVELOPER. WAKE UP, HASTINGS!

    Comment by GE — Thursday, Jul 15, 2021 @ 07:49

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